An Open Letter to Mayor Bloomberg of New York City
This letter is an urgent, heartfelt plea imploring you to re-consider the scheduled “cleaning” of Zuccotti Park tomorrow morning, which in effect equates to the forcible removal of peaceful protestors who have been exercising their democratic right to assemble and organize in an effort to convey opposition to the current economic climate and advocate for social and political change.
Mr. Mayor, this, the people peacefully assembling in Zuccotti Park for nearly a month to live the courage of their convictions, is what democracy looks like.
Democracy isn’t always neat, pretty, or tidy. More often than not, it is messy, time-consuming, and inefficient. Yet it represents the best of who we are as Americans, the proud heritage our soldiers have fought for and died for over the past 235 years.
The First Amendment of our Constitution’s Bill of Rights specifically states that Congress, meaning government, “shall make no law abridging…the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Peaceful assembly is what we are about as a country. Along with freedom of speech, press, and religion, it constitutes the radical foundation on which our “experiment in democracy” was built back in the 18th century.
It was peaceful assembly through demonstrations, rallies, and sit-ins that ended slavery, successfully fought sweatshops and big business abuses 100 years ago, enabled the rise of labor unions, earned women and African-Americans the right to vote, defeated segregation, established civil rights as law, forced the end of the Vietnam War, and garnered support for health and environmental regulations that have saved countless lives. This is what democracy looks like.
In four weeks, the Occupy Wall Street movement has acted in the lofty tradition of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., refraining from violence while remaining steadfast in advocating for the suffering and struggling majority of Americans. Even now, protestors are working vigorously cleaning up the park, sweeping, mopping, and disposing of garbage. Actions speak louder than words, and these actions speak volumes. This is what democracy looks like.
Please, find a way to negotiate with these people to reach a compromise allowing the protest to co-exist with the City of New York. Give them a chance to clean the area regularly and thus serve the city and the community. This can be resolved peacefully as a win-win situation.
The whole world is watching New York City right now. Those in Zuccotti Park are not embarrassing the city; they are embodying the best of New York and the nation. They are giving new life to the words of poet Emma Lazarus, inscribed on the sacred symbol that greets those coming to New York, the Statue of Liberty.
In 1883, Lazarus wrote, "Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
This was the beacon that so many escaping from tyranny and oppression first saw as they set foot on American soil. It was the beacon my grandparents and the young girl who would become my mother saw when they arrived in New York in 1949, having survived the horrors of the Holocaust in Europe.
Those tired, those poor, those huddled masses are the people for whom these protestors stand. This is what democracy looks like.
If you go through with the “cleaning action” to evict these people advocating for jobs, health care, economic fairness, and a rising tide that lifts all boats, the world will see something very ugly in New York City tomorrow. Because this kind of government heavy-handedness is what fascism looks like.
Fascism is about rule by the strong over the weak. It is about social Darwinism, survival of the fittest and yes, unfettered capitalism. Fascism throws away those who cannot make it on their own. Fascism is the rule of bullies, whether by the power of the gun or the power of economics.
And that is not who we are.
One hundred years ago, 146 innocent people were killed in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire because people wrongly believed that unfettered capitalism is the American way. Life was second to profits in value. Today, the voices of those sacrificed in this tragedy and of those who risked their lives and took to the streets marching for safe working conditions in its wake are screaming to us from the ground. What have you done? Where are you?
In the final scene of the documentary “Shoah,” depicting the horrors of the Holocaust, the late Simon Wiesenthal placed a note in the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Judaism’s holiest site, reading “I am my brother’s keeper.”
The Occupy Wall Street movement is people saying we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. We want an equitable system with a strong social safety net, not a system that benefits the few at the expense of the many. We want an America that recognizes that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, as we are our planet’s keepers. This is what democracy looks like.
Please do not throw away the best of who we are as Americans and the best of what New York City is. Do not give the perpetrators of 9/11 a posthumous victory by wounding the democracy they hated in a way that they were unable to do. Government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed. Government serves the people, not the other way around, and this “cleaning” action you seek to undertake does not serve the people. It serves a privileged few who hold onto power by force of economics.
It is not too late to change your mind. Please, consider everything that makes us Americans, everything we celebrate with pride each Fourth of July, and decide to work with this expression of grassroots democracy, whether or not you believe in what the protestors in Zuccotti Park are saying.
Because this is what democracy looks like.
Laurel Kornfeld, writer/actress
Highland Park, NJ